Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has been vocal about his expectations of a playoff appearance for the Grizzlies this season, but without improvement from the bench such a leap wasn't likely, not even in a Western Conference that has lost more stars this summer than it's gained. The team could have hoped that internal improvement among young returnees or the performance of rookies Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez would give the needed boost. And those hopes might have been realized. But past history suggests that relying strictly on unproven youth is not a wise bet.
In a free agent market in which promising role players such as Wesley Matthews (5 years, $33 million) and Travis Outlaw (5 years, $35 million) have gotten very generous deals and with the Grizzlies seemingly unwilling to come within sniffing distance of the luxury-tax line, the team was likely being priced out of the Ronnie Brewer market even if they'd maintained their matching rights to him. And given that reality, Allen seems like a decent back-up option.
A Celtic for his entire career — Grizzlies' GM Chris Wallace was part of the regime in Boston that scouted and drafted him — Allen is probably more familiar to Grizzlies fans than similar role players around the league because of his post-season television exposure. Because of that and because he had some nice moments in the Finals — blocking Pau Gasol from behind, guarding Kobe Bryant effectively — I suspect some fans may be expecting too much from Allen.
At 28, Allen is something like a more experienced, more polished Sam Young. He's 6'4", but with a 6'9" wingspan that helps him guard bigger players and he's an explosive athlete, which results in some highlight-reel dunks:
But generally, Allen is a mediocre offensive player. He's a career 6.1 points per game scorer with more turnovers than assists and no three-point range. And though he can be an effective slasher, that ability it mitigated somewhat by his mediocre free throw shooting (73% career).
Some Celtics fans might object to my use of the word "polish" in regard to Allen. (Celebrity Celtics fan Bill Simmons Tweeted this morning: "So long, Trick Or Treat Tony Allen. One of the 5 most frustrating Celtics ever, but a good teammate who always played hard.") But what I mean by that is that Allen, at this stage of his career, seems to have a better understanding of his limitations, as witnessed by his declining three-point attempts and improved field-goal percentages over the past three seasons. Allen is a role player who seems to know his role, and that is defense and energy. Though sometimes too foul prone, Allen will be the Grizzlies best perimeter defender next season and as such should carve a significant role.
The Grizzlies also did well on Allen's contract, which is not only reasonable on a per-year basis but also smartly limited at three years. At 28, barring injury, Allen should maintain his value over the length of the contract, but could see is value slide precipitously as he enters his early 30s and diminishing athleticism isn't balanced by outside marksmanship.
The biggest potential question with the Allen signing is roster imbalance. Last season, the two Grizzlies players who logged the most minutes were small forward Rudy Gay (39.7 minutes per game) and two-guard O.J. Mayo (38.0). Meanwhile, the team's most productive returning bench player, Sam Young, plays those two positions, as does the team's top draft pick (Xavier Henry) and now it's primary free-agent acquisition (Allen). Something has to give, and while Mayo and Gay can expect to see their workloads reduced some, it won't be enough to create enough minutes for Young, Henry, and Allen.
To alleviate this potential playing time crunch, at least one of two things would be helpful, and I'd endorse both: One, obviously, is allowing Mayo to soak up some of the back-up point guard minutes when Mike Conley is out, something the team finally seems willing to experiment with. The other could be to move Rudy Gay over to the four in smaller alignments. Coach Lionel Hollins has expressed a desire for a "stretch four" on the roster to help the team match-up when other teams go small. He hasn't gotten one this summer, and unless either Darrell Arthur or DeMarre Carroll suddenly develops a more reliable outside touch, Gay is probably best equipped to play this role when needed.
The Allen signing brings the team's roster to the minimum 13. I think there's a good chance the team adds one — but not two — more player, even if just on a minimum contract. There could be a need for both another small guard option and a veteran frontcourt bench option. One of these needs would come from an additional signing. I wouldn't mind seeing the team try to deal Young or Carroll to fill the other and balance out the roster, but there's probably not much of a market for either player at this point.